March 29, 2014
A Trip To Tokyo
After almost two years in Japan already, I had until this week failed to make it to the endlessly fascinating and magnetic city of Tokyo. A city about which, more than any other, I hear people say they wish to visit someday.
As I see it, there are three aspects to Tokyo, from a tourist visitor’s point of view: the historical, the ultra-modern and huge, and the ultra-weird. I got a little taste of each. What I would say, though, is that each has to be sought out, rather than being upon you as soon as you enter the city. Much of Tokyo is gray and functional, but all areas have the potential to throw up little surprises.
I happened to be staying with a nice couple in their 80s who ensured that the historical element would be satisfied, as they introduced me to some places of interest as well as having lived in the city their whole lives. I came to realize the importance of Buddhism in Japan more than I had before, particularly after seeing the Asakusa area which, as well as being the historic entertainment district, has housed a sacred Buddhist statue since 628.
I also learned more about the city of Edo, which Tokyo was until Japan ‘opened up’ to the West in the second half of the nineteenth century and imperial rule replaced the military rule of the shogun. After this, Japan modernized and changed very quickly. Although closed and isolated, in 1721 Edo had been the biggest city in the world.
For enormous and futuristic, Shinjuku is definitely the place to head. Where the buildings create canyons as only happens in a few cities, and so much is going on overhead that we are gratifyingly dwarfed by the city. This is, in my view, is more of an appealing area for lovers of skyscrapers than the largest building in Tokyo, the Skytree, which is slightly underwhelming compared to some of the great mega towers of other famous cities across the world.
As far as weirdness goes, for a tourist and particularly a foreigner this is often only glimpsed. It takes a lot of experience, money, dedication or cultural moulding to be fully immersed in it. One place to catch a glimpse is Akihabara, where otaku (those with an obsession of some kind) can indulge their every fantasy.
This covers everything electronic, from any kind of electronic game you can imagine (or fail to imagine until you see it) to a huge range of discounted offers which make a trip worthwhile for anyone looking for electronic goods as well as a taste of weird Japan. Everything manga and anime is on available and, in addition to those and the electronics, people may well discover some new obsession they never conceived of before.
Unsurprisingly, that long-standing obsession of all of ours, sex, is never too far from the surface. Although not in its usual form – more traditional red light districts are elsewhere in the city. Akihabara is where a very Japanese kind of kinkiness is found, for example young women dressed in maid costumes invite you to enter their cafes, where I am told, they will take care of your every need. This includes cleaning the wax from your ears. I did say every need. I didn’t find this out first hand; the 80 odd year old gentleman I was staying with told me about it. And there was me thinking I could only rely on him for information on the history stuff.
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